27th Jan 2021

EU skeptical about Iran nuclear deal

The EU on Monday (17 May) expressed reservations over a surprise deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil under which Iran would ship enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for nuclear fuel.

The pact - agreed at the weekend by the foreign ministers of the three countries - commits Tehran to depositing 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium in Turkey in return for fuel for a research reactor.

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It comes after Iran and a broader group of countries under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) late last year agreed that there would be no fresh sanctions if Iran limited enrichment to a level of no more than 3 to 4 percent.

Tehran backed away from the proposal, citing disagreement about the details of the deal, which included a simultaneous swap, something the IAEA said was not feasible. Iran's stocks are now thought to be much larger than the 1,200 kilograms covered by the new agreement.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told a news conference after the EU-Latin America summit in Madrid that: "The [Iranian] declaration you have seen today is a response to a request from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). From my reading of it, it partly addresses the issue they have raised."

She explained that the IAEA offer was a "goodwill gesture," but one that would not solve the underlying issue, of Tehran being suspected of carrying out a military nuclear programme.

"Where we are at the present time, they have my phone number," Ms Ashton added on the prospect of further talks.

France, who holds a veto right in the UN Security Council, took a tougher stance.

"Let's not be duped by this. A solution for the medical reactor, while necessary, would in no way resolve the problem posed by the Iranian nuclear programme," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

The US also expressed "serious concerns" about the new deal, which could undermine its push for a fresh set of sanctions against Iran in the United Nations Security Council.

The US points to the fact that the Brazilian-Turkish deal does not call upon Iran to stop its higher enrichment, now at 20 percent, with weapons-grade uranium being enriched to 90 percent. Swapping its low-enriched uranium will not stop it from continuing on this track, Washington explained.

"It does not change the steps that we are taking to hold Iran responsible for its obligations, including sanctions," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Russia, which also holds a permanent seat in the UN decision making body, welcomed the pact, but said further talks were needed on Iran's nuclear programme.

As for the IAEA, it said it had received the text of the joint declaration by Iran, Brazil and Turkey, but was now expecting Tehran to notify it directly of precisely what commitments it had undertaken.

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